Another Petty Tyrant. Damn.

A while back I introduced two of my clients, one who does e-commerce and another who, as part of her business, builds web sites based upon this here WordPress contraption. I’d explained in clear terms to the chief excremental orificer of the first why I consider it a monumental mistake to use WordPress in their application, but he insisted that it had to be so I introduced the two. I’d never had an ounce of trouble out of the first client, and I am impressed with the work of the second, so it seemed a good way to do them both a good turn and improve my karma.

I now regret doing it. I had no idea that the chief excremental orificer guy was a raging, control freaking, power playing asshole. I rarely deal with him, as I usually talk to his office manager who’s always been cheerful and pleasant with me — she’s sent me pictures of her dogs, even. The guy has never got out of line with me, and nothing he’d done until recently had ever struck me as remarkable enough to deserve even a mental note.

A little musical interlude:

That show took place while Amethyst and I were busy falling madly and permanently in love not so very far away. I didn’t mind missing that show. 🙂

My web site building client is a dear girl who doesn’t realize how great she is, and I can’t help but mentor her from time to time because she’s about a year younger than my eldest and never intended to go into business for herself. She was hired into the business as an employee, and then some time later her employer just walked out. He literally just removed his personal possessions from his desk and headed for the door, and when she expressed her very natural chagrin he told her that if she wanted the business it was hers to do with as she pleased. It wasn’t exactly a gift. It was less like inheriting a mansion and more like inheriting a painful chronic skin condition. To make matters worse, she’s got some trusted advisors who just haven’t got what it takes to heed Jimmy’s words, “Don’t try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it”. It’s not at all uncommon. I hear from people all the time who believe themselves qualified to offer me free business management consultation, and if I ever encounter one who’s not entirely full of shit I’ll be glad to receive it. My young client, a well meaning and big hearted woman, has even offered me some of the stuff she’s got from her trusted advisors as though it’s sage wisdom. I guess I come across as one who needs lots of advice.

She counseled me quite some time ago that my No Asshole Rule is unwise. She explained that, pragmatically, I am in business to make money and that should be my focus; it shouldn’t matter at all to me how easy it is or isn’t to get along with someone. It should be enough that their checks clear. I suppose that’s true if you run a liquor store or a car lot, but in this line of work it’ll eat you alive. I gave her an example: Suppose I’ve two clients, each of whom has an eight billable hour project. Client A is easy to get along with and his only interest is in conducting mutually beneficial business, so I’m going to commit about two hours of overhead to the preliminaries, eight more to the actual work, and at the end of my long work day he’s going to tell me to go ahead and bill his card. Get in, get done, get out, just like sex. Client B is an asshole client and is going to play asshole client games, so I’m going to have to devote 16 hours of overhead and three entire days for the same eight billable hours. I know that sounds exaggerated, but in fact it’s fairly average for the leverage asshole clients exert. Everything takes at least three times longer than it should.

Pragmatically, Client A delivers 140% greater return on investment than Client B. I’d be a fool to not tell Client B to go fuck herself on a fire hydrant.

Unfortunately, my e-commerce client jumped right in and proved my point for me. They pulled every asshole client trick in the book on her, up to and including verbal abuse. She caught verbal abuse not just from chief excremental orificer but from his underlings, as well. By the time it was over she had paid out more to her contractors than she was paid for the project. Though she’d delivered more than the contract stipulated the e-commerce client had been using the fictional shittiness of the site as an excuse to push her around so they couldn’t just deploy it as it was and had to bring in another web designer to “finish” it.

Being really very good at this business stuff, they knew that the very best place to find a highly qualified and successful web designer was the local community college where people who fit that description teach to bag peanuts instead of working to bag billable hours. Makes sense, right? What’s that they say? Those who can, teach, and those who can’t, get jobs in law enforcement. No, that’s not it. Oh, yeah: Everything’s better with Blue Bonnet on it. Oh, no, that’s not it either. You probably know the thing I’m talking about.

I remember a time when I was transitioning from my former career to this one, when a junior electrical engineer who was about three years out of college asked me a question and couldn’t understand my answer. I sat down with her and worked her forward from what she knew, which took about 20 minutes. Near the end of it, she asked, “Why didn’t they teach me this in school?”. All I could think of to say was, “They already had your money”.

That’s what it is: Those who can’t, teach.

The big blow up happened in May, and I moved the e-commerce client’s site to their own server and off of my web design client’s server then. On Monday the e-commerce client’s office manager asked me to make the development site live, and after reconfirming with her and confirming with the highly qualified and successful community college web design instructor that it was the right thing to do, I deployed the site.

Then I spent the rest of the evening pulling the head from the ass of the highly qualified and successful community college web design instructor. The questions she asked indicated a shocking lack of knowledge and experience, and the mistakes I found confirmed it. The cherry on the top was when she tried to make out like it was my fault that her work didn’t work. The flesh of my proboscis remained unscathed because the time I spent dealing with her was all billable. Also, I don’t particularly care if I lose this client or not.

Thursday night I was Cc’d on an email message from the chief excremental orificer to the highly qualified and successful community college web design instructor, which was also Cc’d to all of the underlings who’d joined in helping the CEO to abuse my other, good client. He expressed his grave disappointment that there had been no beta site “so we could work out the structure”. Seems to me the structure was worked out long ago, and the beta was the site that I moved from my other client’s server to theirs back in May, publicly accessible to any who knew the URL, and upon which his own people logged in regularly — I receive email every time someone with administrative privilege logs in. He went on to say, “Please tell me that you will be able to work on these difficulties promptly. If not will will it be possible to go back to our old web site until this
has been beta tested and accomplish a proper representation of our company?”

They pulled the same shit on my other client, approving designs and then rejecting the prototypes wholesale, demanding changes and add-ons after a prototype finally gained approval, all the usual asshole client tricks including monopolizing her time. The damned beta was there and the client company knew it, and the client company made the deployment decision. But once again the site is suffering intolerable shittiness? Nah, that’s not it, not it at all. It’s just plain old assholery, the same shit they’ve pulled before. The CEO’s message read like a thinly veiled public shaming.

I replied to the Cc’d message saying that I could easily enough revert to the old site and the cost would be $x. The CEO replied quickly, saying among other things, “I think the best path is to improve our current site as rapidly as possible”. I replied, saying that if there is anything I can do to assist I’ll be happy to do so. To that he said: “… we will employ our resources to make the site effective for our business”. Hmmm… I’ll bet a dollar that the community college woman quoted a fixed price, too. Those who can’t…

A bit later another email message came in from the guy. He wanted to know if it would be “possible to have the old site available so that we can redo articles etc. that are recorded there”. Well, yeah, anything’s possible, but the software their old site is based upon actually makes WordPress look good by comparison and is damnably difficult to move from one host name to another so I can’t quote a price. His response: “If having the old site available is any trouble at all I am not interested”. Okay, that settles it: He doesn’t want to spend any money. He just wants to make people jump.

I have a feeling that we are soon to part company. The guy hasn’t been an asshole to me yet, but if my read is correct it’s just a matter of time because he’s on a streak and is getting his nut by pushing people around. I’d be quite happy to become his next target and my only regret would be being unable to be there in person for it. I might just be a very sick bastard, but one of my great joys in life is slapping petty tyrants down in full view of those they’ve tormented.

On the up side, my good client now understands pragmatism, the folly of quoting fixed prices, and has incorporated much of my No Asshole Rule into her standard contract. These are all good things, but I regret being involved in creating the situation that necessitated her education.


13 thoughts on “Another Petty Tyrant. Damn.

  1. sunsetdragon

    man what an education your good client got and there are sure some a hole sin the business world.

    1. happierheathen Post author

      She apparently needed that education, I hate to say, but in the grand scheme of things it’s better that she got it relatively cheaply and relatively early. Yes indeed, there are some serious assholes in business — our business climate is one intentionally engineered to provide an environment in which assholes will thrive at the expense of others.

  2. solberg73

    A clear and methodical exposition here and I do appreciate the time you spend in explaining and documenting the banality of evil. I’ve had a few construction clients who simply couldn’t be pleased: the impression was that their main goal was to drive me nuts. Exiting unscathed is always iffy, like Vietnam.

    1. happierheathen Post author

      In environments like yours and mine we get more than our share of that sort. Those who like to exert and exploit any power that comes to them recognize just as surely as we do that the balance of power shifts dramatically in their favor once that initial deposit is tendered. I’ve learned to appreciate the value of being a jerk right back to make it unpleasant for the aggressor to play that game. Ain’t nuthin’ in the agreement that says I can’t. 🙂

      1. solberg73

        Hmm… I rarely use the power I’m supposed to have to control petulant clients for some reason. But in the few cases when I did I was shocked, as in “Wow didn’t know this car even had a fifth gear!”

    2. Roadkill Spatula

      My nightmare clients (for my handyman business) were all middle-aged single women. The reasons for their singleness became increasingly obvious as I worked for them. I should have stopped long before I did.

      Before them, it was my first wife that I could never satisfy on our home improvement projects. Our MO involved hours and days of discussion and planning, for which I was responsible to remember which of the dozens of options was the final one that we had agreed on. Invariably I would get some detail wrong and would get my butt chewed at length in our next interminable meeting. In retrospect, I should have insisted she make the notes and diagrams and write in the specs.

      I grew to dread and detest our projects. After the divorce, I discovered that I actually loved the work itself; it was the interaction and conflict I hated. Very few of my subsequent clients were control freaks like she was. It was only when I discovered that my steadiest clients were these psycho middle-agers that my enthusiasm started to wane again.

      1. happierheathen Post author

        Lonely women, whether single, divorced, or unhappily married, are well represented in the asshole client realm, that’s for sure. They know you’re committed once that initial deposit is tendered and just can’t help but take advantage of your temporary captivity.

        My parents and my second wife were as you describe… It’s true what they say: Divorce is so expensive because it’s worth every penny. 😀

      2. solberg73

        I understand and sympathize with you Tim, on the situation with your ex.. My girlfriend for the last 40 years is similar and I need to constantly forgive her: she knoweth not what she doeth, ha.
        But at the risk of sounding like my Dad, who often exasperated me. by responding when I described a problem, with “I don’t know, I never had any trouble with it personally”, my experience with single middle-aged women has been almost uniformly positive. Reading between the lines, I’m assuming that you also made sure to reinforce their delicate self-image, as any thoughtful person would. Whether to cross the Maginot intimacy line is always iffy I’ll admit.
        There’s a line in the film ‘Shampoo’ where someone asks the Warren Beatty character “So how many of your clients do you… you know?” He looks down IIRC, and admits ‘All of them”.

  3. LAMarcom

    Once again verifying we were cast from the same moldy old hunk of clay and baked in the same kiln.
    “chief excremental orificer”
    Nuff said.

  4. whyzat

    How annoying and frustrating! I will never know why it is that even the smallest amount of power can make a person into a jerk. In my life, I have had the most experience with female petty tyrants; like women who cut fabric in the craft store who keep gossiping with their friends while I wait with my bolt of fabric. Ugh.

    1. happierheathen Post author

      I think that even petty power corrupts because civilization is based upon hierarchical power, so we’re all conditioned to accept subjugation and abuses of power — a perspective that’s just one step away from rationalizing one’s own abuse of power. I could be wrong.


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